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Mormon families fleeing Mexico violence arrive in Arizona

10 November 2019

The victims, who had dual US-Mexican citizenship, were killed in a hail of bullets Monday on a rural road between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, a lawless region known for turf wars between drug cartels fighting over lucrative trafficking routes to the United States.

Members of the Mormon colony from La Mora, Mexico. Five surviving children hid in the mountains with bullet wounds. Her daughter Faith Marie Johnson, 7 months old, was found unharmed in her auto seat.

When the killers struck, the families were spread out along a 12-mile (20 km) stretch of road near the border of the two states, according to Mexican authorities and the families.

Relatives and friends stand next to the coffins with the remains of Rhonita Miller and four of her children, who were among the nine victims killed on November 4 in an attack authorities have blamed on a drug cartel, on their way to their burial at the cemetery of La Mora Ranch in the municipality of Bavispe, Sonora State, Mexico, on November 7, 2019. Many residents of the two communities that lie a five-hour, bone-jarring drive apart are related.

About 300 people live in the small community of La Mora, whose residents consider themselves Mormon but are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Miller and her children, whose bodies were reduced to ash and bones when the auto they were in was shot at and then went up in flames, are due to remembered in a ceremony in an another village, Colonia LeBaron, on Friday. Twelve-year-old Howard Jr. and 10-year-old Kristal were buried in their own coffins on either side.

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"We have come to honor their memory and to try to understand what is happening", said the man at the head of the caravan of 70 vehicles, Alex LeBaron.

Miller said that with the eyes of the world upon these communities, he hopes their deaths may not be in vain and can spotlight what he deems a nationwide concern with thousands of Mexicans mourning missing and dead loved ones amid record-setting homicide levels. "We've got terrorists here".

"I would like this to be used for people who have no voice", Miller said, "and I think "Nita" would approve wholeheartedly".

The driver of the second SUV, Christina Marie Langford Johnson, 31, had leapt out of the auto to try to alert the gunman that it was only women and children in the SUVs, but she was shot to death, according to post on Facebook from relative Kendra Lee Miller. "And I won't feel safe".

But Bryce Langford, who was raised in La Mora but now lives in North Dakota, said it wasn't easy for his relatives to leave behind the land they have called home for more than 50 years.

On Monday morning, a group of three mothers and their 14 children set off in three cars from the La Mora ranch, to go to another Mormon settlement, Colonia LeBaron, in neighbouring Chihuahua state. They are not sure where they will settle down in the long term, Langford said.

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Some hours earlier, the La Linea arm of the Chihuahua-based Juarez Cartel sent gunmen to defend the state border area, after attacks in a nearby town by the Los Salazar faction of the rival Sinaloa Cartel, a top Mexican general told reporters.

Another event honouring the victims was to take place later on Thursday. Residents of La Mora dispute the theory that the victims were not targeted.

Most of the families are traveling to Phoenix, and others are heading to Tucson.

"Until there's answers, she's not bringing her kids", Darger said in La Mora after travelling there to attend the funerals.

It was also the latest shocking act of cartel violence to suggest that the old rules against killing foreigners, women or children are collapsing.

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Mormon families fleeing Mexico violence arrive in Arizona